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Just how many satellites are there in the outer space?

The reason why technology or science is talked about is not because it is an absolute truth, but rather because it generates interesting stories __ Song Ho-jun

Last update March 18, 2014

The space objects now orbiting Earth range from satellites weighting several tons to pieces of spent rocket bodies weighing only 10 pounds.

How far can your “Satellite for Dummies” manual take you?

The Space Surveillance Network has been tracking space objects since 1957 when the Soviet Union opened the space age with the launch of Sputnik. Since then, the SSN has tracked more than 24,500 space objects orbiting Earth.  (See Helping Zimbabweans to steppe in sync and South Africa attempts to pull the plug on Zimbabwean satellite decoders)

It spot-checks them rather than tracking them continually. The enormous amount of tracking data comes from SSN sites such as Maui, Hawaii, Eglin, Florida, Thule, Greenland and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The data is transmitted directly via satellite, ground wire, microwave and phone. Every available means of communications is used to ensure a backup is readily available if necessary.

NASA is currently able to track only 1% of all the asteroids in our solar system. This is why NASA asks citizen scientists to become ‘asteroid hunters.’ The Asteroid Data Hunter Challenge began in March 2014. It was launched by NASA and Planetary Resources, Inc., formerly known as Arkyd Astronautics, an asteroid mining company. Planetary Resources, Inc.’s ARKYD 100 is the first private space telescope and a stepping-stone to near-Earth asteroids, according to the comapny’s website.

The Asteroid Data Hunter Challenge will run tentatively through August 22, 2014. Teams that succeed will have a chance at USD35,000. Planetary Resources, Inc. investors include:

  • Larry Page, co-founder of Google.
  • Eric Schmidt, former Apple Inc.’s board member.
  • James Cameron, Canadian film director, film producer, deep-sea explorer, screenwriter, and editor who has directed the two biggest box office films of all time.
  • Charles Simonyi, who, as head of Microsoft’s application software group, oversaw the creation of Microsoft’s flagship Office suite of applications.
  • K. Ram Shriram who served as an officer of Amazon.com working for Jeff Bezos.

Be sure to check Deep Space Industries, another asteroid exploration and exploitation company that was formally announced on January 22, 2013, nine months after the announcement of the first asteroid-mining firm, Planetary Resources.

Experts estimate that there are USD100bn worth of mineral resources in outer space.. per each inhabitant of the Earth.

Diego Garcia, a tropical, footprint-shaped coral atoll located south of the equator in the central Indian Ocean. It is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Forty years ago its population, then numbering about 2,000 people, were expelled by the British government to Mauritius and Seychelles to allow the United States to establish a military base on the island. (Map courtesy of usslave.blogspot.com)

Back in the 1950s, Sputnik was marked with a red flag that told America not to take its technological dominance for granted. It was orbiting the planet at 32,186.88 km per hour while emitting a constant radio signal. (See International day of human space flight in Harare)

The SSN currently  tracks more than 8,000 orbiting objects. The rest have re-entered Earth’s turbulent atmosphere and disintegrated, or survived re-enty and impacted the Earth. About seven percent of the space objects are operational satellites, the rest are debris. The United States Strategic Command, STRATCOM, is primarily interested in the active satellites, but also tracks space debris. They also track space objects which are 10 centimeters in diameter (baseball size) or larger.

A pronouncing example of such small satellites is a homemade, basement-built satellite that a South Korean Song Ho-jun has been working on for nearly six years. An engineering student at university, Ho-jun built his $500 OpenSat to show people they could achieve their dreams. After working as an intern at a private satellite company, he came up with the idea for his “Open Satellite Initiative,” which in turn led him to contact space professionals from Slovenia to Paris.

The cubical OpenSat weighs 1kg and measures 10 cubic centimetres. It will transmit information about the working status of its battery, the temperature and rotation speed of the satellite’s solar panel. Radio operators will be able to communicate with the satellite. If all goes well, it will repeat a message in Morse code using its LED lights at a set time and location.

OpenSat’s components cost only 500,000 won ($440). But the cost for launching it hit 120 million won after Song signed a contract with NovaNano, a a Lyon-based aerospace company, which acted as a broker to arrange the launch, including submitting paperwork and finding a rocket.

Song Ho-jun of South Korea built a $500 OpenSat satellite to show people they could achieve their dreams. He came up with the idea for his “Open Satellite Initiative,” which in turn led him to contact space professionals from Slovenia to Paris (Photo from Song Ho-jun’s Facebook profile)

The satellite will be launched from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (the world’s first and largest operational space launch facility) in December. And one hopes that OpenSat will be luckier than NigComSat-1, the first African geosynchronous communication satellite. (See Adasia: untapping media markets in Central Asia)  Launched on 13 May 2007, aboard a Chinese Long March 3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre (The Sichuan-based facility became operational in 1984 and is primarily used to launch powerful thrust rockets and geostationary communications and weather satellites), NigComSat-1 failed in orbit after running out of power  in 2008 due to an anomaly in its solar array. (See From Geely in Ukraine to Chery in Zimbabwe: how many China’s global brands can you think of? and Africa-Asia prospects II: more solid research on Africa needed to inform Sino-African relations )

With a mockup of the defunct Russian “Buran” Space Shuttle sitting passively nearby (lower right), the Soyuz TMA-3 spacecraft and its booster rocket crawl on a rail car to the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan October 16, 2003, in preparation for its liftoff October 18 to carry three astronauts to the International Space Station. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Historically, as space technology matured, satellites were launched for military and commercial purposes. The price of satellite launches has dropped to as low as a few million dollars for light satellites, and a few tens of millions for heavy satellites. This put satellite technology within the reach of many nations and international companies.

Down at sea, an aircraft catapult mounted on a modern aircraft carrier has enough muscle to throw a Land Rover a kilometer.

A host of commercial flight options to experience the space conditions is emerging. Zero Gravity Corporation (also known as ZERO-G), an Arlington, Virginia-based company, operates weightless flights from United States airports. Peter H. Diamandis, the former CEO and co-founder of ZERO-G, is also the co-founder of Planetary Resources.

Unlike NASA, ZERO-G is governed under Part 121 of FAA regulations (as are all US commercial passenger and cargo airlines) enabling the company to cater to both tourists and researchers alike. The company Sea Launch — a consortium of four companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Norway — has launched a few satellites into orbit from international waters every year.

Physicist Stephen Hawking in Zero Gravity’s aircraft

Satellites have an operating lifespan between five and 20 years. As of 2008, the former Soviet Union and Russia had nearly 1,400 satellites in orbit, the USA about 1,000, Japan more than 100, China about 80, France over 40, India more than 30, Germany almost 30, the UK and Canada 25, and at least ten each from Italy, Australia, Indonesia, Brazil, Sweden, Luxembourg, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. (See I want my TV in Afghanistan and Turkey’s soap power)

Some satellites, called microsats, nanosats, or picosats, can be as small as 10 cm (3.937 inches) in diameter and 0.1 kg (0.22 pounds) in mass. The largest man-made satellite currently in orbit around the Earth is the International Space Station.

Enough about cold metal in the dark vacuum–we wonder have astronauts ever had sex in space?

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